May 2024
Rodeo Controversy On Hold
Prescott Frontier Days backs off rezoning; lawsuit pending

Prescott Frontier Days, Inc., the nonprofit that operates Prescott’s annual rodeo, has made no secret of its desire to turn the fairgrounds into a far greater development than currently exists — including building a members-only clubhouse for Buckle Club members, expanded private parking and updated and expanded facilities, at estimated cost of $40 million. The proposal had elicited both positive and negative comments in the community. But on April 5 PFD backed off its request to rezone the rodeo grounds and put it “on hold.”

The organization’s press release quoted PFD President Kymberli Lopez: “The reality is, we have the annual World’s Oldest Rodeo to put on, which is only 90 days away. The rodeo is the City’s largest event, producing great economic benefits to our region’s business owners and tourism operators, not to mention a major component of Prescott’s identity. The planning and meetings related to the master plan can be put on hold while we focus on producing a successful event for the City of Prescott, its residents, businesses, and visitors. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we serve the City of Prescott and the events that take place at the rodeo grounds.”

When 5enses contacted Lopez, she referred this writer to the rodeo’s media contact, Guy Roginson, who has not returned calls. Prior to withdrawing its request (for now, as the release said it would be “revisiting the master plan” in the “future”) the group had proposed that the City grant it a 139-year lease in place of its 25-year lease, for which it pays a symbolic $1 annually. Since that proposal was made, the recall of the Mayor failed and the anticipated election won’t happen. In addition, public support has been tepid.

The rodeo expansion had been controversial partly because of the $15.3 million appropriation that had been approved in the state legislature without the awareness of City Council members, who may have wanted a say in how the money would be spent. Homeowners near the fairgrounds were concerned about the expansion’s potential to disrupt the peace in adjacent neighborhoods. Before the rezoning request the proposal had already been held up by a lawsuit that is yet to be decided in state court. With the $15.3 million PFD could improve existing buildings and add a bathroom facility.

At the same time, facing a budget deficit, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs has said she wants any unspent funds from 2023 returned. State Sen. Ken Bennett and the representatives who backed it — Nguyen and Bliss — have pledged to fight to keep the money. PFD says it wants to use the $15.3 million for, “ADA access improvements, bathroom improvements, neighbor-friendly sound system, new perimeter fencing, landscaping, underground utilities, improved grandstand seating, and additional box seating.”

Groups opposing the rodeo expansion note that currently, even with sponsorships and donations, PFD is not profitable. Its own annual report shows a $349,026 deficit for 2022, despite $630,932 in donations, due in part to substantial payroll growth since former mayor Greg Mengarelli took charge as business development director in 2021.

In its proposed master plan PFD proposes to increase the frequency of events to bring in more income, citing an economic-impact study by Rounds Consulting Group. It projects that additional and upgraded rodeo facilities could bring in 511 temporary jobs and $27.3M in construction-related wages. Total economic activity  that might be generated by construction could come to roughly $74.8M. The study estimates that construction activity related to the expansion would generate about $2.8M in one-time state tax revenues and $1.7M in local ($476,800 county and 1.2M city) tax revenues.

The PFD marketing report states, “The expansion of the Prescott Rodeo will allow for various additional events (e.g., trade shows, concerts, etc.) to be held at the rodeo [grounds] and expand the capacity of current events.” It projects increasing event participants by 10-15% per year. That “(… increase of 12,230 visitors per year) would create an additional 100 jobs, $3.8M in labor income, $9.8M in economic output, and $780,000 in state and local tax revenues each year.”

Earl Duque of the Gail Gardner Neighborhood Association said residents in the area oppose the zoning plan and any major expansion. “We support the improvements of the facilities, but we don’t support the expansion,” Duque said. “We support the rodeo as it is, at its modest size.” The PFD proposal effectively “annexes” the  fairgrounds as rodeo property and ignores the neighborhood’s concerns, Duque said, noting that all the plans are for the rodeo and Buckle Club, not the City.

Rodeo-related congestion already impacts the Gail Gardner neighborhood.

The proposed expansion and plans to double usage will impact residents, Duque said. “We like the rodeo being there one week a year and the fair being there one week, but it’s got to the point that the traffic has backed up all over the streets, and it has the neighbors scared that it will get worse.”

Duque said 2023 was “exceptionally bad” because every rodeo show was sold out. Additionally, the Yavapai County Fair produced sustained sound at 100 decibels, which he said shook houses.

In response to the PFD proposal, Duque said the Gail Gardner Neighborhood group has organized and developed an updated plan for the City. It includes open space, a garden, a mini park and other elements that recognize the residential nature of the area, like traffic-calming features and crosswalks.

“There’s an opportunity to make something great for all of Prescott, not just PFD,” Duque said.

Given the motivation by the Gail Gardner Neighborhood group and the uncertainty surrounding the case involving the state funds, PFD appears to be more conciliatory, reportedly even telling city council that PFD would allow it to be the fiduciary agent for the state funding.

The suit opposing the funding alleges that it violates the gift clause, which bars government entities from giving money to private companies or people without direct benefit to taxpayers. Filed by Ralph Hess, Howard Mechanic and the nonpartisan legal advocacy group Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest in June 2023, it may not produce a ruling before this summer, though most suits in state courts are resolved within a year. The state’s attorneys appear to confirm that the appropriation could be withdrawn by the Legislature before the case is resolved.

Disclosure: Toni is a member of the PAC Arizonans for Promoting Integrity, which has expressed concern about PFD and its proposals.

Journalist Toni Denis is a frequent contributor.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.